Acts // Part 3 - Return To Sender

March 18, 2012 Speaker: Phil Baker Series: Acts

Topic: Book Exposition Passage: Acts 1:6–1:11

Introduction

Last week I taught through Acts 1:2-5. We discovered 4 key things that Jesus did to prepare the disciples to be his witnesses in the world. He gave them commands through the Holy Spirit, he met with them repeatedly for 40 days, he taught them about the kingdom of God, and he told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the promised Holy Spirit. This morning we will be focusing on Acts 1:6-11. Get your writing utensils and note-sheets ready.

Acts 1:6-11

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Verse

6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?”

Commentary

At this point in the gospel narrative, Jesus has led his disciples to the Mount of Olives. The Mount of Olives was a significant place for several reasons. It was there that Jesus wept bitterly over the people of Jerusalem because he knew that they would reject and murder him and because he knew that their judgment was fixed. It was there that Jesus was transfigured in front of three of his disciples. Why do you suppose the disciples asked Jesus about when he would restore the kingdom to Israel?

It could be that they knew he was leaving and wanted to know when he would return.

Maybe they wanted to see Jesus fully vindicated by destroying his enemies and that’s why they asked?

Maybe it was their nationalistic zeal?

Or maybe they wanted to know because they wanted to receive their kingdom blessings.

I suspect that their true motive was derived from a blend of 3 & 4. They wanted so badly for Israel to be delivered from their enemies by the Messiah. They had been taught from birth that the Messiah would do it. And they also wanted to receive the kingdom blessings Jesus promised. In Matthew 19:28 Jesus promised that the disciples would have thrones in the coming kingdom.

Back in Luke 9:28-33 Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on the Mount of Olives where he was transfigured. Peter was so filled with zeal for Israel that he spoke up and made horrible suggestion that ended with a divine rebuke.

Let’s take a look at it in Luke 9:28-33.

Luke 9:28-33

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure,which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”— not knowing what he said.

Some scholars say that Peter’s request to set up tents was a call to arms. Before a battle the highest ranking military leaders would set up tents so that they could meet with their captains for planning and strategizing. It could be that Peter believed that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were the generals and that James, John and himself were the captains. He probably thought that he would go with Jesus and James would go with Moses and John would go with Elijah. A little later in Luke 9 it says that God the Father rebuked Peter for his irreverence, impetuosity, and lack of insight. God said, shut up and listen to my Son!

There is a principal in verse 6 that we need to learn and apply.

That principle is how personal desire can generate blindness. The disciples were fixed on what they wanted and that blinded them from seeing and understanding the truth. Their zeal for Israel and their place in the kingdom had become more important to them then the truth of God, the will of God, the plan of God, and the timing of God. If you read through the gospels you will see how often personal desire plays a role in their inability to understand Jesus. Peter wanted Jesus to take the throne ASAP but when Jesus said that he would be betrayed and murdered what did Peter do? Guided by personal desire, he rebuked Jesus and said, I will never let that happen. And what about James and John? Guided by personal desire they talked their mom into asking Jesus if they could sit in God’s place in the kingdom. And what about Judas Iscariot? Guided by personal desire he rejected and betrayed Jesus and then committed suicide.

The bible is filled with stories of how people were blinded to the truth of God by personal desire. In what ways has personal desire blinded us from the truth?

For some of you it could be your personal desire to be blessed.For some of you it could be your personal desire to gratify your flesh.For some of you it could be your personal desire to preserve your religious upbringing.For some of you it could be your personal desire to protect your theology.

Look at how Jesus responded to them in verse 7:

Verse

7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.

Commentary

Jesus basically told them, “You do not need to concern yourselves with when I will restore the kingdom to Israel.”

When I read this I was reminded of all the yahoos that have tried to calculate when Jesus will return in recent years. People like Harold Camping, Joseph Smith (Mormons), Charles Taze Russel (Jehovah’s Witness), and Ellen G. White (7th Day Adventist) and so on and so on. And what about all the prophesy conferences that focus on times and seasons? There’s been hundreds if not thousands of those. People are obsessed with end times; the church is obsessed with end times. Someone once said “The surest way to grow a church numerically is to host an end time’s prophecy conference.” I’m not saying that eschatology or end times study isn’t important because I believe it is. But true eschatology has nothing to do with figuring out the exact time and season for the Lord’s return. Investing time in such matters is an offense to God for two reasons.

It undermines his authority.

It chews up time that could be spent spreading the gospel.

The church has not been commissioned by God to decode and decipher every biblical mystery, especially eschatological ones. It has been commissioned by God to train the saints for the ministry of the gospel and to reach the world for Jesus Christ. Whenever a church strays from that biblical mandate, it ceases to be a true church. So what did Jesus tell the disciples? Forget about it!

In verse 8 Jesus points the disciples in the right direction. Look at it with me.

Verse

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Commentary

Jesus told the disciples that spreading the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit was gonna be their task, goal, and focus. Jesus planned to keep these guys busy for the rest of their lives.

He said, “You’re gonna be my witnesses in Jerusalem (this will take some time), in Judea and Samaria (this will take more time), and to the ends of the earth (this will take the rest of your lives and beyond)”. Jesus didn’t leave them time to focus on other things, did he? No he didn’t.

And if you read through the rest of the book of Acts you won’t find the disciples or apostles doing anything other than spreading the gospel. These men were resolved and determined to obey the Lord by getting the gospel out there. They worked tirelessly.

Why do you think the church exploded in the 1st century? Of course it was Jesus that exploded it but who did he work through, the apostles and others.

Today a lot of pastors are more focused on retirement so they can play golf or lay out by the pool. Instead of putting in work in the word of God and in their communities their busy managing their investments and 401K’s.

Jesus did not say:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be able to spend much of your time trying to figure out when I will return…”

Jesus did not say:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be able to spend much of your time playing golf…”

Jesus did not say:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be able to spend much of your time in front of the TV…”

Jesus did not say:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be able to spend much of your time playing Xbox 360…”

Jesus did not say:

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be able to spend much of your time working on your classic car…”

Jesus didn’t say any of those things. He said:

8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

I love William Barclay’s commentary on our passage. He wrote,

“The second coming of Christ is not a matter for speculation and for a curiosity that is quite out of place; it is a summons to make ourselves ready for that day when it comes.”

Barclay was right. The second coming of Christ isn’t a matter for speculation but a call to ready ourselves and the world for his return. How can we ready ourselves and the world if we spend most of our time on leisure, hobbies, our portfolios, or on other things? We can’t.

Look at the word “witnesses” in the text. In the Greek, the word for “witness” and the word for “martyr” is the same (martus). There is danger in verse 8. The verse could be rendered, 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my martyrs in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Being a witness for Christ in the first century meant being ready to become a martyr. It still does in places like Sudan, Iran, and North Korea. Jesus was a bit prophetic in the text because most of them were martyred. After replacing Judas Iscariot with Matthias, the 12 went out and spread the gospel like wildfire. 11 of them were killed for Christ and his gospel. Tradition says that:

Peter
Was crucified upside down in Rome.

James the brother of John
Was beheaded at Jerusalem.

Andrew
Was crucified in Greece.

Philip

Was martyred at Hierapolis.

Bartholomew
Was whipped to death in Armenia.

Matthew
Was put to the sword in Ethiopia.

Thomas
Was stabbed with a spear in India.

James son of Alphaeus
Was thrown down the southeast pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem (100 feet).

Thaddaeus
Was crucified at Edessa.

Simon the Zealot
Was crucified in Britain.

Matthias
Was stoned and then beheaded.

These guys really were Jesus’ witnesses and martyrs. They went out at any cost. And 95% paid the ultimate price. What a glorious reward they received when they stood face to face with their Master and King.

Let’s move to verse 9.

Verse

9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.

Commentary

Luke has mentioned the ascension two times in the first 9 verses of Acts 1. The ascension is a central theme in Luke’s writings and in the NT. The ascension is the doctrine that describes three very important things.

How Jesus left our world after his resurrection.Where Jesus is currently at.What Jesus has done throughout history as well as what he’s doing today.

Other passages on the doctrine ascension.

Mark 16:19, John 1:1-3, John 17:5, Luke 9:51, Acts 7:56, Ephesians 3:9, Philippians 2:8-9,

1 Timothy 3:16, Hebrews 1:1-3, Hebrews 12:2. And the book of Revelation has the ascended Son of God judging the 7 churches, opening the 7 seals, and testifying to his return to our world. The ascension is all over the NT!

Sadly, the doctrine of ascension is probably one of the most neglected doctrines in Western Christianity. I was at my last church for 10 years and never heard one sermon on it. One of our elders told me that in the 30+ years of attending church he’s never heard a sermon on ascension. Have you ever heard a sermon on the doctrine of ascension? Some of you did two weeks ago when we launched our Acts series. Our first sermon was all about ascension. Did you know that in the month of May there is a Christian holiday called Ascension Day?

Listen very carefully. The doctrine of ascension is one of the most important doctrines in Christianity. Let me explain why. The Bible teaches that Jesus came from somewhere else.

In John 18:33-35, Pontius Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews, he said “Yes, but my kingdom is not of this world…”

John 3:17 ”For God did not send his Son...”

In John 20:21 Jesus said that the “Father had sent him…”

The gospel of John says that Jesus came from somewhere else over 30 times. Jesus’ teachings and miracles testified to the fact that he came from somewhere else. No one in history has done the things that he did. He stopped a storm, raised the dead, fed thousands from next to nothing, healed multitudes from leprosy, demon possession and so on and so on. Even some of the Pharisees believed that he had come from somewhere else because of his extraordinary teaching.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. The Bible teaches that Jesus came from somewhere else, we’ve established that, but there is only one event that proves it and cannot be denied and that event is the ascension. The ascension shows that Jesus returned to where he came from. You might be thinking that much of what Jesus did and taught proves that he came from somewhere else. This is true. But the world has been denying and explaining away those things for 2000 years.

When Jesus performed miracles some called him a magician, a trickster, and an agent of Beelzebub. After the resurrection, the Pharisees devised a plan to spread a rumor that said that Jesus’ disciples had stolen his body to make it look like he had been resurrected. And what about science? How have sinful men used science to explain away the things that Jesus did? Turn on the Discovery Channel to see for yourself! And what about logic and philosophy? How have sinful men used them to explain away the things Jesus that did?

The ascension is like an impenetrable wall of truth that proves that Jesus came from somewhere else. It cannot be scaled, detoured, or brought down by the world’s greatest skeptics, scientists, or philosophers.

Now why is it so important to prove that Jesus came from somewhere else? Because the savior of our world had to come from somewhere else. All had been lost through one earthly man, Adam. Therefore restoration had to be made by another man. But not just any man. It had to be a special man. A man who could perfectly fulfill God’s law, meet his standard of righteousness, and completely satisfy God’s justice and wrath. No mere human could meet these expectations. And so God sent us one who could. He sent his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, the God-Man, from heaven.

The ascension is the undeniable proof that Jesus came from another place, a special place called heaven because it shows us that he returned there.

The ascension proves that Jesus is still active in saving people, in interceding for the saints, in pouring out divine power in the world, in governing the affairs of creation from his throne of grace, and through the teaching that he does through faithful ministers of the gospel.

Without the ascension Jesus is just another earthly man who taught and did some good things. This is why the doctrine of ascension is so very important.

Let’s look at our last verses, verses 10 & 11.

Verse

10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

Commentary

The disciples were watching him go. What a sight this must have been. Who were these men in white robes that stood beside them and talked with them? I think they were the same two guys that appeared during the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah. Moses represented God’s law because God issued the law through him and Elijah represented the ministry of the prophets because God spoke about the coming Messiah through them. Jesus fulfilled the law and all of the prophesies that had to be fulfilled by him while he was here, hundreds of them. Scholars believe that this is why God sent Moses and Elijah to Jesus at the transfiguration. It could be a similar thing in our text.

One of the main differences is that two in white came to interact with the disciples not with Jesus. And how did they interact with them? They encouraged them. They told them that Jesus would return the same way in the future. Interestingly this passage is linked to the passage Bruce read earlier, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I’ll read verses 16 & 17.

1 Thessalonians 4:16-17

16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

This section is about the rapture of the church which will take place before God pours out his judgment and wrath on this world. The text says that Jesus will descend through the clouds just as he ascended through the clouds. It says that the dead in Christ will be resurrected and brought to him and that the alive in Christ will fly right up to him as well. My favorite part of the passage is at the end of 17. It says, “and so we will always be with the Lord.”

That is our hope. To be with the Lord forever.